Print Edition - 2019-02-16  |  On Saturday

A story of deferred dreams

- Saroj GC

Feb 16, 2019-

While conflict can be a prominent agent of social change and transformation, it naturally has more heinous and notorious repercussions. It can be infinitely menacing and equally dehumanising. Not all promises upon which movements and wars are founded are delivered upon. Sometimes, these movements turn out to be the ladder to clamber up in politics—a means to an end.

It’s been about 13 years since the ‘people’s war’ in Nepal ended, and Dhamboji, a novel by Sarojraj Adhikari, addresses its repercussions. In particular, it chronicles the plight of those people in the Tarai region who have fallen victim to the longstanding deception perpetrated on them. The novel evokes those political, social and regional dissatisfactions in the hinterlands of the Tarai that have not been fairly addressed, even by recent so-called progressive political changes. The novel basically sides with the people who have been deprived of social justice.

Adhikari, known for his investigative non-fiction that pursues social and political misconduct, has sought fiction as his wherewithal to map out the experiential reality of recent political changes. Almost all the characters in Dhamboji come from the Tarai region of Nepal. They have been deceived time and again by the their leaders, who are elected by virtue of the slogans made for their emancipation and prosperity and, to much disappointment, by the leaders and the political parties whose origin traces back to this geography.

The novel treats the conundrum of citizenship in the Tarai region as the point of departure for the people of this territory. Because of citizenship, many things are at stake—land, life, liberty, and much more.

Ratnesh, often infuriated with people around and the prevalent system, desires citizenship and experiences an identity crisis due to the lack of it. He has had to live with humiliation, and was derogatorily addressed as a ‘dhoti’, for instance. This document becomes a nonpareil manifesto of almost everything—dignity, origin, family, cooperation, and identity. The novel accounts for this hurtful and ghastly reality, that while people of Indian origin have got Nepali citizenship, Nepalis themselves have been deprived of their political rights merely on the basis of technicalities of process and evidence. A lack of clear-cut laws has underscored the interminable social and individual woes and suffering of the people from the plains.

The novel criticises the loopholes in the current system, of which many inauthentic people are taking benefit of, and calls for statutory reforms. The system is so vulnerable that it easily falls prey to political pressure and kinship dynamics. As the protagonist Bikram ruminates, the existing system “converts a person into a criminal, and the next moment, the person becomes a citizen.” The living example in the novel is Vimilesh, who is convicted without any apparent reason and, after an affinal intercession, is instantly proved to be an ordinary person. While tracing the experiences of the characters during the reading, readers find that all the characters feel that the system underwent a change but the actors of the system have not changed and neither has the psyche. In reality, untouchability and other narrow domestic walls have bifurcated commoners into a diabolical continuum of ‘us’ versus the ‘other’.

Every other sub-story is linked to one character, Bikram. Ironically, he is a person of pahadi origin, witnessing all the political and social upheavals. He wants to serve as a man of justice and fairness, thinking a lot for the welfare of people of the area. Every person who deems themselves influential, politically or socially, takes him into consideration. Bikram, as an emblem, stands for the harmony and cooperation between the people of different origins. However, readers with ethnic and region-specific thinking, seeking political correctness, may find Bikram troublesome—why should he be the only arbiter, taking responsibility to make things better?

Why do people conduct wars and movements  can have serious and more solid political and social explanations. However, Adhikari’s many characters assert that the impetus can come from motives deriving from personal vengeance. Santaman becomes a Maoist rebel in order to take revenge for the oppression he had to endure in the past. A traumatic sexual assault, for instance, changes the course of Baijani’s life. In order to retaliate for this inhuman cruelty, she joins the Maoist movement, though it does not solve her problem.

Beside issues of land and citizenship, the novel enters into subtle serious social syndromes—caste discrimination, the pahadi-Madhesi dichotomy, and economic inequality, that has been so insidious to Nepali ‘modern’ society. The syndromes are serious not only because they are virulently consuming society but have also become agendas for political gambling. Bishne opts for a girl from a so-called high class. Though dreams are dreams, they are shaped and ordained by circumstantial reality. Bishne fails to get her to reciprocate his feelings. In the same vein, the story of Parodevi delineates the compulsion of a sexual profession, and her desire to revamp her lifestyle. Such back-stories in the novel are more absorbing and powerful than the main story, for they scrutinise socially and regionally crucial issues.

Despite all this, Dambojhi does not give a drastically new experience of war and conflict to its reader. In terms of the treatment of issues, it does resemble many other literary endeavours that have surfaced in the aftermath of political movements. But Adhikari makes the experiences of these characters livelier, region-specific, and more importantly, gives those experiences a single thread. Novelistic ruminations on love, time, pain, and sometimes on an aspect of religion and geography are intriguing, and at times, profoundly thought-provoking. Similarly, squeamish details and narrative shards make the readers feel disenchanted with the drama called politics. The full texts of speeches by leaders seem extravagant, and are unnecessary. Again, the use of a zonal language, Awadhi, sometimes obstructs the lucidity and free flow of reading. However, it is an added texture to the mosaic of the story. 

Published: 16-02-2019 10:23

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